Is the ‘love jihad’ bogey being used to settle scores in UP?

Consider the cases of two Muslim men jailed in Kanpur.

ByAkanksha Kumar
Is the ‘love jihad’ bogey being used to settle scores in UP?
A file photo of Shibu Ali.
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Even before it was promulgated in late November and immediately led to a crackdown on Muslim men in interfaith relationships, it was clear that the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020, infamously known as the “love jihad” law, would be used arbitrarily. A Special Investigation Team tasked by Adityanath’s BJP government to examine “love jihad” cases in Kanpur would only confirm this fear.

In its report, given to the government three days before the “love jihad” law came into force on November 28, the SIT claimed to have collected evidence of cheating, kidnapping, and forced religious conversion in 11 of the 14 cases it investigated. As if on cue, the SIT was soon fielding a flurry of demands to look into many more cases of “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory propagated by Hindu supremacists that Muslim men seduce Hindu women with the express aim of converting them to Islam.

Top Hindi papers and TV news channels, meanwhile, brandished the SIT’s report to demonise Muslims and to justify the promulgation of the ordinance. They didn’t so much as bother hearing the accused men or their families, let alone verify the police’s allegations. Had they tried, they would have found, as Newslaundry did on the ground in Kanpur, that the SIT’s report is riddled with inconsistencies, and the charges of cheating, kidnapping, and forcible conversion are far from established.

In our previous reports in this series, we have detailed how the SIT’s claims of “forced conversion” and “coercion” in seven of the 11 cases that are being treated as criminal matters crumble under scrutiny.

In this report we examine two cases where Muslim men are accused of posing as Hindus to “trap” Hindu women in love and then try to convert them forcibly. One of these cases is being investigated by the Kanpur police while the other is pending trial in the Allahabad High Court.

Is there any merit to these allegations?

‘He told me his name was Sachin Sharma’

Komal Goswami, 29, spent about a month and a half in Kanpur’s Hallet Hospital last year after she was stabbed allegedly by her ex-partner, Shibu Ali, on August 14. Shibu was promptly arrested and booked for attempt to murder and illegal possession of a knife.

Komal said she first met Shibu in 2013. She was living with her family in Kanpur’s Yashoda Nagar and gave private tuitions to children in nearby Machhariya Colony, where Shibu earned a living making kites. She had done a master’s, then BEd, and was preparing for the Central Teacher Eligibility Test. They got talking and soon grew close, Komal recalled.

“He had introduced himself as Sachin Sharma. We began talking and quickly became friends. I was having problems with my family at that time,” she added, without elaborating on the nature of the problems. “He lured me with the promise of living together and fulfilling all my dreams. I believed him.”

In 2013, they went away to live in Noida in the National Capital Region where their relationship soon started to unravel. They were staying in a “Mohammedan area”, Komal said, and one day she caught Shibu going to the local mosque. “He would accompany me to the temple so I never suspected him. We are Goswami Brahmin by caste and if I had told my family he was a Muslim they would never have supported me.”

After “coming out as a Muslim”, Komal alleged, Shibu began beating her. “His attitude changed completely. He would force me to eat beef and wear a veil before stepping out,” she claimed.

In March 2015, Komal gave birth to a girl. She had hoped their daughter’s arrival would help mend their relationship but it didn’t. For their daughter’s sake, however, Komal said, she still stayed with him. Until late 2016, that’s, when they finally separated, and she returned to her parents in Kanpur. The child remained with Shibu until Komal’s grandmother went to his house in 2017 and sneaked away the child. Komal claimed she never spoke with Shibu after their separation until he asked to meet her last August to sort out the custody situation of their daughter.

Why hadn’t she complained against Shibu until after the attack last year? “When we fall ill we are taken to a doctor. They call someone who does jhaad phoonk,” she replied, meaning Hindus and Muslims, respectively. “I would be made to drink a potion after which whatever he would say seemed right to me.”

Komal Goswami with her daughter.

Komal Goswami with her daughter.

After the “love jihad” law came into force, Komal’s lawyer, Manish Kumar, petitioned the Kanpur District Court, where Shibu is being tried for attempt to murder, to add its provisions to the chargesheet.

“Compelling her to wear a burqa, forcing her to eat cow meat, taking her to a mosque suggests conversion was the motive,” he told Newslaundry, explaining why he had asked for Shibu to be charged under the new law.

As purported proof of forced conversion, the lawyer showed a copy of a nikahnama, the marriage contract entered in by Muslim couples, signed by Shibu and one Zoya on July 9, 2013. Zoya is the name Komal was given after conversion, he added.

Komal alleged that she had been tricked into signing the nikahnama. Once when she was sick, she claimed, Shibu asked her to sign “some medical papers”, which she couldn’t read as they were in Urdu. The nikahnama is attested by Shibu’s father, Raees Ahmed, a couple of eyewitnesses, and Kanpur’s qazi, Naeem Ullah. The contract states that “Komal Goswami who was born Hindu likes Islam now and would like to convert to be a Muslim. She may be called by the name of Zoya.”

Shibu’s family members and his lawyer, Sarfaraz Khan, rejected Komal’s allegations as outright lies.

In early December, Shibu sent his lawyer a letter from inside Kanpur Central Jail, where he’s being held. He wrote that while they were in Noida in 2013, Komal taught at Reshma Public School in Sector 63, and she would sign the attendance register as “Zoya”. Clearly then, he argued, Komal was not forcibly converted and named Zoya, as she has claimed.

Sarfaraz also showed a notary certificate, a court order seeking police protection for the couple, and a letter to Kanpur’s deputy inspector general of police to act on the court order. The notary certificate, dated January 15, 2010, is signed by Shibu alias Sahil and Komal alias Zoya. It states that “Zoya and Shibu are adults” and they “accept each other as husband and wife”.

“After getting married,” Sarfaraz said, showing the court’s order, “they even approached the Allahabad high court for police protection” from their families, both of which were against their marriage.

This, then, is the story that the records produced by Sarfaraz tell: Komal and Shibu had a notary marriage in 2010 – three years before she claims to have even met him – and then a formal nikah on July 9, 2013. A few days later, on July 19, they approached the high court seeking police protection.

Sarfaraz also has letters purportedly written by Komal back when she was dating Shibu in 2010, again many years before she claims to have known him. In these letters, which have no evidentiary value in the ongoing case, Komal refers to her partner as Shibu, not Sachin.

Komal’s lawyer, Manish, alleged that the letters and the notary certificate were forged. He said they would ask for all these documents to be sent to a handwriting expert for verification once they are produced in the court.

Shibu’s father refuted Komal’s claim that she had not spoken with her ex-partner until August last year. She’d been in touch demanding Rs 3 lakh to give Shibu the custody of their child, he claimed. “That is what they had the fight over.”

He also denied that Shibu had tried to convert Komal against her wish. “There was no pressure for conversion,” Raees added, “The document clearly shows that it was done of her own will.”

Komal’s lawyer rejected the allegation that she had demanded money from Shibu.

Shibu Ali's father Raees Ahmed.

Shibu Ali's father Raees Ahmed.

Soon after the SIT launched its investigation in Kanpur, several women appeared on Hindi TV news channels between October and November 2020 claiming to be “victims of love jihad”. Komal was one of them.

On October 21, she featured in a News Nation show on “love jihad” hosted by Deepak Chaurasia, describing how she had allegedly been forced to become Muslim. In November, her lawyer went on Chaurasia’s show alleging that Komal had been forced to sign documents related to her conversion. “Her daughter had been kidnapped,” he added, addressing a Muslim cleric on the show.

On November 24, Komal appeared on an ABP News show, “Mere saath hua love jihad”, meaning “I fell victim to love jihad”. She told the same story, about how Shibu had pretended to be Sachin Sharma to lure her.

Neither News Nation nor ABP News sought to verify her allegations, or those of the other “love jihad victims” they put on air. They didn’t even speak with the accused, their families, or lawyers. It is a basic journalistic practice, why wouldn’t they do it?

Komal indicated a possible reason: she wasn’t invited on ABP News by any journalist from the TV channel, her appearance was arranged by a representative of the Bajrang Dal, the extremist Hindutva militia which has long been harassing and assaulting interfaith couples where the man is Muslim. Komal had been looking for work and when the Bajrang Dal member asked her to go on ABP News she agreed hoping it would help her land a job.

‘He wore a kalawa and took me to the temple’

On November 30 last year, the leading Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran ran a report headlined “Love jihad accused arrested in Kakadeo”. It was about Golu Khan, 22, who had been booked for assault, stalking, cheating, and criminal intimidation as well as under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in November 2020.

Golu was arrested after a girl who the police say is 14 years old complained that he had pressured her to convert to Islam, and assaulted her when she refused. They had been dating since 2019.

Speaking with Newslaundry at her home in Kanpur, the girl claimed that she had no idea Golu was Muslim when she started dating him. He had introduced himself as Raj, she explained, and he would “wear a kalawa, attend jagran at my place, and accompany me to the temple”.

Kalawa refers to the sacred thread some Hindus wear on their wrists; jagran is an occasional religious congregation held to worship Hindu deities.

The girl with her grandmother at their home.

The girl with her grandmother at their home.

In early 2020, the girl said she was shocked when Golu proposed that they do nikah, a Muslim marriage. She was a Brahmin and did not want to be in a relationship with a Muslim, the girl said she told Golu. They broke up and she went to the police.

Soon after, she alleged, Golu sent a Tik Tok video featuring the two of them to his friend Sunny Bhardwaj, who began threatening her to take back the police complaint or else he would make the video, which shows her kissing Golu, viral.

On June 15, another FIR was registered on her behalf against Sunny and two other boys after they allegedly misbehaved with her.

Sunny denied this, alleging that the girl went to the police after he found out she was using a mobile phone stolen from him.

The police have resisted arresting Sunny and his alleged accomplices despite the girl’s family holding a day-long protest outside the Kanpur district magistrate’s office to press this demand.

The girl, who has been living with her 60-year-old grandmother since her mother left her father and remarried, alleged that they continue to receive threats from Sunny and would be forced to relocate if the police don’t act soon. On December 5, she sent a letter to Uttar Pradesh’s home minister alleging that she was a victim of “love jihad” and demanding the arrest of the “remaining culprits”, meaning Sunny and his alleged accomplices. She had earlier petitioned the SIT to look into her “love jihad” case. The SIT sent the case to the Kanpur Crime Branch.

Golu Khan's parents in Kanpur.

Golu Khan's parents in Kanpur.

Golu’s parents said they have known the girl's family for years and the two of them had been friends, so there is no way that their son could have hidden his identity from her. “And kalawa is worn both by Hindus and Muslims,” added Golu’s father, Abdul Rehman, who works as a house painter.

Golu, who worked for daily wages in stone and marble quarries, was married in June, during the pandemic lockdown. His wife, who is expecting their first child, said, “We bring the thread when we visit Ajmer-e-Sharif and it’s sacred for us. Charges against my husband of trying to hide his identity are untrue.”

“My son,” Golu’s mother chips in, “has been falsely implicated.”

Pictures by Akanksha Kumar.

This is the seventh story in a series on the human cost of the Hindutva ecosystem’s ‘love jihad’ campaign. Read the other stories here.

This report is part of the NL Sena project which 109 of our readers have contributed to so far. It was made possible thanks to Mayank Garg, Rahul Kohli, and other NL Sena members. Contribute to our project to develop Newslaundry’s iOS and Android apps, and help keep news free and independent.

Also Read :
Kanpur SIT’s inquiry laid the ground for UP’s ‘love jihad’ law. But it’s riddled with inconsistencies
How UP police are using the ‘love jihad’ law arbitrarily
Explained: UP’s ‘love jihad’ law
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